March 14: The “King of Diamonds” Was A Connecticut History Gem

 

Few people did more to shape twentieth-century popular culture in Connecticut than the man they called “the King of Diamonds” – the jeweler and marketing genius Bill Savitt, who died  today in 1995, at age 94. Savitt combined a  P. T. Barnum-worthy sense of marketing possibilities with a passion for sports and philanthropy to add memorable dimensions to sports, media, commerce, race relations, and entertainment to more than two generations of Connecticans.

Savitt’s POMG (“Peace of Mind Guaranty”) was just one of many catch-phrases that made Savitt’s advertising so memorable.(Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League)

A legendary story highlights how broad an impact Bill Savitt’s flair for promotion had on the mid-twentieth century Nutmeg State.  In that story,  a Connecticut soldier abroad during World War II approached a guarded checkpoint and found he did not have his identification with him. Fearing he might be a spy, the sentry interrogated him about his identity.  When the ID-less soldier claimed to be a Connectican, the guard, also a Connecticut native, asked the one question sure to reveal whether the man was telling the truth.  “What does POMG stand for?” he asked. When the GI  answered “Peace of mind, guaranteed,” the guard let him pass. POMG – the slogan indelibly associated with Bill Savitt’s famous Hartford jewelry store – was embedded  deeply in the hearts,  minds  and culture of Connecticans for decades, as was Savitt himself.

Savitt’s  jewelry store moved to Hartford’s Asylum Avenue (“35 seconds from Main”) in 1935, and it soon became a Hartford icon through Savitt’s memorable ads and sloganeering. (Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League)

Savitt would have been a household name in Hartford on the basis of his Asylum Street Savitt Jewelers store alone.  Born on March 9, 1901 in Springfield, MA, Savitt opened his first  jewelry store on Park Street in Hartford in 1919. In 1935 he settled into the larger Asylum Street location he would make an icon, through his strategically placed, creatively unforgettable advertisements.

“There are people in this town,” a reporter noted in 1953, “who will tell you that Bill Savitt missed his calling. They say that instead of being merely Connecticut’s leading independent jeweler, he could easily have become one of the nations’ top advertising and public relations executives. And, oddly enough, they’re right.”

This is because Savitt’s  store was arguably the least of his contributions to his community.

Community minded and philanthropically inclined, Savitt used his talent for marketing to benefit Hartford in many ways. Many of his kindnesses were kept quiet, whether it was paying for season tickets to visually impaired students to attend the Hartford Symphony, supporting military families and soldiers, or sending help to local hospitals. Others were more public, including efforts to support the United Way, with Savitt pledging donations for every run scored in the World Series. In one notable example, he jump-started an ailing World War II bond drive and raised $90,000 by importing the famous million-dollar Jonkers diamond, and allowing bond purchasers to try on the gem.

The legendary Babe Ruth played his last game in a Savitt Gems uniform on September 20, 1945. Savitt stands to the left of the Babe in the center back row. (Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League)
Savitt recognized the importance of multi-media advertising, and owned FM-station WCCC, which later became the rock station that introduced Howard Stern.

Most of all, Savitt was known for his passion for sports, and the brilliant promotions he conceived for his “Savitt Gems” baseball team – promotions that made his nickname “the King of Diamonds” doubly meaningful.  Savitt formed the semi-pro Savitt Gems in the late 1920s, and was an early advocate for desegregated baseball. For a time the owner of Bulkeley Stadium, Savitt brought big-name stars like Ted Williams, Satchel Paige and Babe Ruth to Hartford. The Babe, in fact, played his last game of baseball ever at a charity exhibition in Hartford, wearing a Savitt Gems uniform as he popped off a few demo home runs for the crowd and pinch-hit for the Gems. Savitt also owned the FM radio station WCCC. With a transmission tower on Avon Mountain in West Hartford, the station was meant to be a forum for community awareness and publicity

Repeatedly honored for his charitable efforts, Savitt had a Hartford street renamed in his honor (near the modern site of the Xfinity Theater), and then-governor William A. O’Neill proclaimed April 30, 1987 “Bill Savitt Day” in the state. Savitt passed away in 1995 at the age of 94, remembered fondly as the “King of Diamonds.”

Further Reading:

Weston Ulbrich, “Bill Savitt, King of Diamonds,” News The Bat and Ball

Video Trailer, “Bill Savitt, King of Diamonds,” GHTBL Films

Bill Savitt, One of a Kind,” Hartford Courant